NEW YORK — Ten years ago, “Daily Show” correspondent Jason Jones sat down to interview a pastor in the classic style of the program ― the correspondent played straight while talking to someone with ridiculous ideas. The interviewee, James Manning, had plenty.
Manning,the pastor at Atlah World Missionary Church in Harlem, was famous for his fiery attacks on then-President Barack Obama ― someone he called a “long-legged mack daddy” who had been “born trash.” The highlight of the interview was Manning telling Jones he thought Obama was the next Hitler.
Another correspondent, Jessica Williams, interviewed Manning a few years later. His latest argument? That Starbucks was flavoring its lattes with human semen. Williams interviewed him one more time after that, three years ago. Manning’s church, which by then had been classified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-LGBTQ hate group, owed over $1 million in bills and back taxes, according to creditors. A homeless shelter for LGBTQ youth hoped to take over the space.
It felt like poetic justice was coming. But Manning retained control of the building, and what the public knew about his outlandish behavior only scratched the surface.
Manning isn’t just an outrageous character, perfect fodder for a satirical late-night show and click-baity internet headlines. He also runs a K-12 private school at the church,the two units of which are called Great Tomorrow’s USA Elementary/Middle and Atlah High School. His persona there is anything but an entertaining spectacle.
Around the same time Manning was gaining notoriety for his dangerous rhetoric, he locked a teenage boy named Sharif Hassan in the church’s basement, according to Hassan and several other congregants and students from that time.
For three full school days in 2011, a church leader would take Hassan to the pitch-black basement in the morning, locking the door and leaving him there for eight hours. Hassan, then 17 and a junior at Atlah High School, sat on a grimy bench in total darkness. His lungs filled with dirty air from the nearby boiler. Bugs and rodents crawled around him. Each passing minute felt heavy and lingering, and each hour felt like it dragged on for days.
Hassan said he wasn’t allowed to eat anything on the first day until school ended around 4 p.m. The second day, he was given 15 minutes to eat upstairs, isolated from his classmates, before getting ushered back down into the dark.His thoughts turned to suicide as he experienced deep loneliness.
Hassan, who had attended the church’s school since he was a young child, was in solitary confinement — and he said his parents had approved the abusive punishment.
“It was constant hate and control and manipulation,” Hassan, now 25, said of life at Manning’s school and church. “I felt like we were his slaves.”
In a monthslong investigation, HuffPost spoke with 27 people connected to the church and school, including former students, employees, congregants and community members to uncover stories of a religious leader who spent years psychologically abusing and systematically estranging students from their families. He forced some students to go by new names and fast weekly. He convinced their parents to abandon them. And one incident, caught on tape, divided the church community and led to a police investigation.
And over the years, those who say Manning abused them have watched as the pastor’s celebrity has grown.
Last week, HuffPost sent Manning a list of over 60 questions regarding its investigation. He replied with only a short video clip from the most recent Atlah church service, during which he lauded the educational successes of the school’s alumni. He singled out Hassan’s mother, noting that she has two children in graduate school programs.
“If they had come from a long lineage ― if her grandfather had been a lawyer and her father before that had been a lawyer, then we could potentially understand or have some understanding,” Manning said during the service on Saturday morning, addressing Hassan’s mother. “But this is all brand-new, breaking-ground territory, and it all started at the Atlah High School system and the leadership of this church.”
The Church That Hate Built
One morning earlier this year, children shuffled in and out of Atlah’s multistory brick building that houses the church, school and several apartments. The church is located in the heart of Harlem, just a few blocks away from Marcus Garvey Park and the historic Apollo Theater. Stores such as Whole Foods and Starbucks have arrived in recent years in a wave of gentrification. Several competitive, high-stakes charter schools sit nearby.
Atlah’s building was home to the religious cult leader Father Divine in the 1930s. Father Divine, who rose to popularity during the Great Depression, was a bombastic figure, fashioning himself as God incarnate. Manning, too, presents himself as a larger-than-life, god-like figure. The building’s exterior features a massive portrait of him. A hexagonal letterboard sign with a giant light-up cross towers over the church.
The sign is notorious for its hateful messaging such as “Jesus would stone homos” and “Obama is a Muslim. Muslims hate fags. They throw fags off buildings.”
The politics of the proclamations have changed over the years. Before the 2016 presidential election, the sign screamed for Harlem residents to vote for Donald Trump, but a more recent message called Trump “a nasty cracker possibly having sex with Ivanka.” The sign alleged in early 2019 that the White House was run by white supremacists.
One spring day this year, the sign proclaimed: “Stop the economic white supremacist from killing Harlem. Stop the gentrification genocide now.”
It’s an unusual stance for a church to take; church signs typically feature Bible verses and espouse a love of God. But for the students of Atlah’s school, such a message is business as usual.
The private Atlah school, which the church’s website says was founded in 1995, openly touts an extremist and hateful educational philosophy.
People who attended the school describe its leaders as being rabidly homophobic. Manning would often talk about evil “faggots.” Teachers would echo those sentiments, describing gay people as demons who were doomed to go to hell. A message from Manning on the school’s website directs parents to “Stop the homosexual brainwashing of your children!”
Atlah uses textbooks created by Abeka and Accelerated Christian Education, according to its website. Textbooks from these companies preach revisionist history, portraying non-Christians as lesser, environmentalism as radical and the study of psychology as unholy, according to a previous HuffPost investigation.
Former students describe being required to watch YouTube videos during class that Manning had created. In them, he put forward outrageous analysis about current events, replete with profane language and slurs. The video series, called The Manning Report, was banned from YouTube in summer 2018 because it violated community standards, but the Atlah account recently reappeared on the platform with new videos. Manning also continues to post clips on the Atlah website. In a recent video, Manning claimed that Obama and actor Jussie Smollett were lovers.
Thirty-eight students attended Atlah’s school in the 2015-16 school year, the most recent year for which data is available, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Tuition policies lack transparency, and families pay on a sliding scale depending on what they can afford, according to former teachers and students.
The school has had a “registration pending” status with New York State since at least 2013. Private schools apply to register with the state, providing details of their program, and the state sends a representative to conduct a site visit. But due to years of backlogs and staffing shortages, these site visits have been delayed and are still in the process of being scheduled.
The school is able to take advantage of the benefits of registration in the meantime, even though its status is pending. It can award students New York State-approved regents diplomas, the standard high school diploma granted in the state.
When HuffPost asked the New York Department of Education to respond to the allegations made in this investigation, an official said, “The Department takes all allegations of misconduct against certified educators extremely seriously.” Private school educators in New York are not required to have state certification.
“[We] would encourage anyone that believes they may have been the victim of misconduct to contact us with the appropriate complaint information,” the official said.
Indeed, private schools around the country aren’t held to the same transparency and accountability rules as public schools. The idea is that they’re mainly accountable to their customers ― the families who attend. But at Atlah, families aren’t objective customers. Many parents see Manning as an infallible prophet from God who protects them in exchange for loyalty.
Romance And Retribution
In the fall of 2010, before Hassan ended up locked in the basement, he had a crush on a girl named Tamar. He was a junior and she was a freshman. She was petite and had long black hair. They often took the M7 bus home together after school and sometimes stopped for ice cream or pizza.
Tamar, whose last name is being withheld to protect her privacy, was new to the school, and unlike Hassan, her life didn’t yet revolve around Atlah. She found out about Atlah from her aunt, who thought it would be a good fit. She and Hassan spent a few months flirting before he asked her to become his girlfriend. That’s when they started having sex, too.
Tamar said her mother was furious when she found out about the physical nature of the relationship. She thought her daughter was too young to be having sex, and she brought the issue to Manning, hoping he could help.
That’s when Manning banished Hassan to the church’s basement, something he said his parents agreed was an appropriate response. In this case, Tamar went punishment-free.
“My mom and dad said the punishment was biblical,” Hassan told HuffPost. “They’re lost. Their minds are lost.”
Hassan’s parents did not respond to requests for comment about this incident or other allegations made by their son. Instead, Hassan’s father ― whose given name is Clifton Lewis but who is known to the Atlah community as David Lewis ― sent HuffPost the same video as Manning, in which Manning lauded educational successes of Lewis’ other children.
A Vulnerable Community, And A Web Of Manipulation
Atlah is more than just a church for many families. It is the center of their world.
Families tend to get involved with Atlah during low points in their lives. Manning preys on their vulnerability and weakness, former congregants said.
Hassan’s parents joined the church when they were on the verge of splitting up in the early 2000s. Manning counseled them through the rough patch and became a stabilizing force. They believed Manning when he said the family would fall apart without him, Hassan said. Hassan’s father eventually started working for the church, producing The Manning Report and helping with audiovisuals.
For Hassan’s family, Manning was playing the role of spiritual leader, school superintendent, employer and infallible prophet.
They’re not alone.
There are congregants who live in apartments at the church, and Manning employs several of the church’s members. Manning controls every aspect of some congregants’ lives, including how they socialize, where they work, and how they spend their money.
Manning decided a few years ago that congregants weren’t donating enough of their income to the church. That’s when he started imploring followers to give him access to their bank accounts, according to four former congregants. He told them they didn’t know how to manage their money and that he would take better care of it than they could.
“We’re completely shut off from everything in the outside the word. He’s the news,” said Hassan, who compared Manning’s power to that of Jim Jones, a religious cult leader who convinced hundreds to participate in a mass murder-suicide.
“He tells us when to go, when to march, when to stop, when to give him money, when to fast. Everything,” Hassan said. “He used that Bible to control minds and break up families.”
The Anatomy Of A Charlatan
Manning, now in his early 70s, was born in the segregated south; he was the grandson of a slave and the son of sharecroppers.
He moved to New York after high school, and he worked as a marketing representative for Procter and Gamble. He gained a level of success, but he was disturbed by the suffering of fellow African Americans and decided to quit his job, he said during an interview posted on YouTube in 2015.
He fell into a life of crime, robbing the homes of rich white people on Long Island and in Miami Beach, Manning said in that video. He spent over three years in jail for robbery, larceny and criminal possession of a weapon, according to The New York Times.
Manning became religious in prison. He became pastor at Bethelite Missionary Baptist Church a few years after his release, and he earned a masters degree in theology from Union Theological Seminary in Manhattan in 1985. In 1991, he changed the church’s name to Atlah, an acronym for “All the Land Anointed Holy,”saying the Lord came to him and implored him to do so.
Manning has always been unconventional as a pastor, but former followers say his opinions have become more outrageous as he has aged and tightened his grasp on the lives of congregants. With endless bombast and theatrical charisma, he preaches a type of brash respectability politics, pointing to black Americans as culpable in many of the social problems caused by systemic racism and discrimination.
“It doesn’t take much to become a basketball player. How many Jewish basketball players do you know? How many Jewish doctors, lawyers, and dentists do you know? THE MORE DESIRED PROFESSIONS TAKES DISCIPLINE,” says an old Atlah High School syllabus.
Judy Grimes, a former Atlah teacher, got involved with the church in 1996. She said she was taken with Manning’s vision for the black community, as he preached the importance of strong black men.
She said she thought Manning could have a real impact on the community.
“He had this vision of righteous men, male leaders in home and church and community,” said Grimes, now 67. “I would like to see a generation, especially of black women, have something change for them. Have responsible men.”
Over time, though, Grimes became disillusioned with the pastor, as she saw his rants becoming more unhinged and his disposition more irrational. She left the church last summer, when Manning told her she couldn’t continue a relationship with a former congregant he had forced to leave the church. Grimes’ daughter is still involved with Atlah, and they stopped talking after she left the church.
“You have people, some people who are not well-educated, who may have low self-esteem, some people who have been knocked around by life,” said Grimes, who now lives in Trinidad and Tobago. “They hear him talk and his charisma gets to them. They’re all wrapped up in it and become quite willing to do whatever Pastor says.”
Former churchgoers say followers started dropping off when Manning took a hard stance against Obama during the 2008 election. More left after the pastor endorsed Trump in the 2016 election. (He has since reversed his stance on the president.)
But as Manning’s esteem within the church community decreased, his public notoriety grew.
He booked spots on “The Howard Stern Show” and appeared on Fox News. He orchestrated attention-grabbing stunts, like staging a faux trial against Obama for treason and sedition. He continued to make headlines, and he appeared in those segments on “The Daily Show.”
A Former Student With Nowhere To Turn
Hassan said he fell into a deep depression in the months after being locked in the basement, and he fantasized about killing himself.
Hassan had been taught since he was 8 years old that Manning had the keys to heaven. He believed that Manning was chosen by God. If he didn’t have Manning’s approval, what did he have?
Hassan didn’t feel safe inside the church, but Manning had told him the outside world was full of sodomites and demons.
Hassan began to think of Manning’s punishments as justified.
“I was so comfortable with this love I thought of as real love,” he said.
But the punishments only intensified.
Manning first threw Hassan out of the church a few weeks after his high school graduation.Earlier in the year,Hassan had joined an after-school program not affiliated with Atlah that connected kids to internships at prestigious companies. He began missing church services. Manning was upset, Hassan said.
Hassan would roam the city for hours at a time while his parents were praying — which was often. He was lonely, and he decided to beg his way back into Atlah before starting classes at a local college.
Things stayed calm until Hassan got a part-time job about a year later. The unpredictable hours meant he sometimes had to work at night and on weekends ― and miss some church services.
Hassan said Manning retaliated by refusing to pay Hassan’s father for several months. Hassan’s family, which includes five other kids, was living in public housing in Harlem and already having trouble making ends meet. The loss of wages was devastating.
The pastor decided once again that Hassan couldn’t attend church. Hassan’s parents threw their son out of their home, something Hassan suspects Manning urged them to do. Hassan had nowhere to go, so he decided to stay in his college’s dorms, even though he couldn’t realistically afford them.
Everything was too expensive. He said he stopped eating, and the 5-foot-4-inch young man went from weighing 120 pounds to weighing just 90 pounds. His health declined. He broke out in hives and found blood in his stool. He was only allowed to see his family in secret so Manning wouldn’t find out, stopping by for dinner occasionally. His relationship with Tamar began to suffer, and they began seeing each other more intermittently.
Again, he decided to beg his way back into Atlah. At 20 years old, he felt as if his life depended on it.
A Broken School
What’s considered normal at Atlah’s school would be considered malpractice in nearly any other educational context.
Students are sometimes given new names when they arrive. This happens for congregants, too. Hassan said Manning told him to go by Michael because Sharif sounded “too Muslim.”
Then there were the weekly Wednesday fasts. Church congregants, including children as young as elementary school age, were required to abstain from food and drink as a way of showing devotion to God.
Students were assigned physical tasks ranging from cleaning out the sewers in the church basement to shoveling Manning’s car out of snow.
And Manning’s anti-gay agenda was ever-present. At one point, according to four former congregants, Manning even asked church followers to defecate in a bag and leave it at gay-owned businesses.
Manning’s bizarre publicity stunts are also fully integrated into the school’s culture. Williams and the “Daily Show” audience might have been shocked when Manning posited on television that Starbucks was flavoring coffee with semen, but it was hardly a surprise to his followers. Conspiracy theories — often sexual in nature — were regularly fed to kids in classrooms via The Manning Report and during church services. (Williams declined to comment for this article when asked about what she witnessed when filming her segments at the church. Jones, the “Daily Show” correspondent who interviewed Manning a decade ago, also declined to comment.)
In 2007, Manning started a campaign to combat gentrification in Harlem and banned congregants from shopping at local businesses. His crusade became the subject of numerous articles that painted him as a somewhat unconventional truth-teller. The media did not mention that children of Atlah were often forced to hand out literature about the issue, even during the school day, standing outside for hours on end in extreme heat or cold.
One Tape, Multiple Abandoned Students
Hassan again started going by Sharif, not Michael, when he went to college. He said he felt ashamed, like he was living a double life.
For all the church’s failings, though, he was content to be back at Atlah, if only so he could see his parents and siblings.
But three years after Hassan was first thrown out of Atlah and abandoned by his parents, Manning kicked out Hassan once again. Only this time, it was for good. And this time, other young people were also expelled and made homeless.
I was thrown out that church like a dog, homeless and all, with no diploma. That is what broke me the most.Derek Mills, former student
Tamar approached Hassan in 2015 with a secret: She told him Manning had been sexually harassing her and touching her inappropriately. Hassan and Tamar had been dating on and off for years and always remained close. Hassan didn’t believe her. In his mind, Manning was invincible.
Tamar decided to surreptitiously record audio of her next conversation with Manning. She had recently graduated from Atlah High School and was 18, but remained involved with the church. Manning often spent time alone with Tamar while she was a student, but she said he didn’t act inappropriately toward her until after she had graduated. Now, she wonders if he bided his time, deliberately waiting until she graduated to make a move.
It was around Valentine’s Day, and Manning had brought Tamar candy. They were sitting in his car as she started to record.
Manning can be heard on the recording, which HuffPost reviewed, complimenting Tamar’s breasts and saying he wanted to pull up her skirt. He also says he first started having feelings for her when she started at the Atlah school. She was 14 when she first became a student there.
“You got an incredible body,” Manning can be heard saying in the recording. “In fact, like on Wednesday night you came, and you had on a black blouse and black stockings and a gray or something skirt. All I could think about was, ‘Wow, I sure would like to remove those stockings and that blouse,’ and just look at your body.”
Hassan shared the recording with a few of his friends, who were fellow Atlah students and graduates. They were certain Manning would have a reasonable explanation when a congregant asked him about the tape.
But Manning only made excuses and claimed the recording must have been doctored.
Hassan and his friends began to suspect Manning was hiding something. Suddenly the man who they thought was larger than life seemed small and sad.
Manning retaliated when word got out about the recording.
Over the course of the next few months, he systematically kicked out the teens and former students who knew about the tape, removing them from both the church and school. He gave congregants and parents outlandish excuses for why he was punishing the kids, and convinced parents to abandon their kids.
He ruined their young lives, turning them into high school dropouts and homeless teens.
Joshua Farr, who was 18 at the time and one of Hassan’s close friends, was among those barred from the church. Manning told Farr’s parents that their son was gay. Farr isn’t ― but even a whiff of the label carries a devastating weight in the Atlah community. His family, who lived in an apartment at the church, told him he could no longer live with them. He moved to the Bronx to stay with his grandmother.
His brother Isaiah, 16 at the time, was forced to leave a year later and joined him at his grandmother’s. He had to scramble to find another school. Both boys slept on mattresses on the floor of their grandmother’s living room.
The Farr brothers still live with their grandmother, and they haven’t seen their parents in years. The forced estrangement still weighs heavy on their hearts and minds.
“I was a child,” said Isaiah, now 19, who graduated from a public school in the Bronx and works on the cleaning staff at Bloomingdale’s. “I was supposed to be guided, not kicked out.”
Joshua Farr, now 22, said Manning had been one of the most important people in his life.
“I saw him as the closest thing to God, when I believed in God,” he said.
Derek Mills was a high school senior when he was pushed out of the church for refusing to end his friendship with Isaiah. His family was homeless at the time, and they were taking shelter in the church. His family still supported him but they chose to stay at Atlah until they could find a better option ― they needed a roof over their heads. A relative in the Bronx took him in.
Manning threw Mills out of school just weeks before his graduation and refused to grant him a high school diploma. Mills is still working to get his GED, and now works as a clerk at the main branch of the New York City Public Library.
“I was thrown out that church like a dog, homeless and all, with no diploma,” he said. “That is what broke me the most.”
Manning kicked out Tamar, too. He accused her and Hassan of faking the recording. She retained the support of her family, who did not belong to the church.
“It’s not a safe place for young women,” she said. “He waited until I was older, but things like that will happen again.”
And Hassan became homeless. His family wouldn’t let him live with them. He spent several weeks bouncing around his friend’s couches before moving to California to live with his grandma.
Hassan has not seen his parents or siblings in the years since. He said he has sent them messages them on Facebook and that they never write back. He said birthday presents he sends are returned after no one picks them up at the post office.
It’s shocking that somebody who is so clearly disturbed and continuously making threats and propounding these bizarre conspiracy theories has a school. It feels like it’s an endangerment of children.Carl Siciliano, executive director of the Ali Forney Center
Three years after being kicked out of Atlah, the young adults are still in awe about the turn their lives took.
Manning wasn’t just the man who had counseled them on religious matters since they were kids and whose approval they desperately sought. He was their school superintendent. Suddenly, he was interrupting their educations and turning them into high school dropouts.
When given the choice between Manning and their children, the parents of both Hassan and the Farrs chose Manning.
HuffPost sent Rainbow Farr, the mother of Josh and Isaiah, details of her sons’ allegations. She said over the phone that she hadn’t read the message. “I don’t have any contact with them, so I have no comment,” she said.
The next day, she replied to the email with a short video clip from the most recent Atlah church service. In the clip, Manning announced that he was gifting a car one to one of Farr’s other sons, who is still a student at Atlah. Manning also posted the video clip on his Twitter, with the hashtag
Manning Threatens A Standoff ‘Worse Than Wounded Knee’
By 2016, Manning had rooted out the kids who threatened to taint his godly image within the church community. But he was still at risk of losing it all.
That was the year Atlah was almost foreclosed upon and put up for auction after failing to pay $1 million in bills and taxes.
Newspapers covered the issue with glee, especially after the Ali Forney Center, a nonprofit that provides shelter for LGBTQ homeless youth, announced its intention to buy the building.
But the mood was dark inside Atlah. In a moment of apparent desperation, Manning made a video threatening to barricade himself inside the church with kids from the community. He said the standoff could turn violent, even “worse than Wounded Knee.”
Carl Siciliano, executive director of Ali Forney, watched the video and sent a link of it to a cop in the New York Police Department. He said he was told his note would be passed on to the appropriate authorities and that he didn’t hear anything further from the NYPD.
Then,in late August 2016,Manning was granted a Hail Mary. A judge vacated the foreclosure and punted the issue back to the courts, where it remains after years of delays. The city says Manning has a catalogue of unpaid tax and water bills, but Manning has argued the church should be tax-exempt and free from such fees.
When Siciliano looks back on those days, what he remembers most is the kids who were by Manning’s side and trotted out as the church clashed with activists.
He especially remembers one instance, in which community members held a “love not hate” rally outside the church. Siciliano brought some young people from the Ali Forney Center to participate. But things turned dark when Manning showed up with a megaphone. The pastor started shouting profanities at protesters, telling them their breath smelled like buttholes, Siciliano said. Siciliano rounded up the young people from the Ali Forney Center and left, afraid Manning would continue to cross the line.
The kids Manning had brought with him had to stay.
“It’s shocking that somebody who is so clearly disturbed and continuously making threats and propounding these bizarre conspiracy theories has a school,” Siciliano said. “It feels like it’s an endangerment of children.”
Congregants Fight Back
A few congregants decided to take action against Manning in spring 2018, three years after Tamar’s recording first emerged.
Around that time, Joab Jenkins, whom Manning had recently thrown out of the church, filed a complaint with the sex crimes unit of the NYPD regarding the recording of Manning and Tamar. Jenkins told the police Manning was a danger to children. He was worried for the other female children.
Tamar said the police investigated but didn’t press charges because she was over the age of 18 at the time of the recording.
A detective on the case wouldn’t comment on it and said it had been closed.
In August, a former Atlah student posted the recording on YouTube.
Former students flooded Manning’s Facebook page with negative comments, calling him a “false prophet” and saying he had brainwashed congregants.
The students were no longer afraid of him. He had already ruined their lives.
Manning responded by airing his grievances on social media. He made up cruel lies about his former students, and he threatened to release their “sexual perversion records” as well as school and medical records. He posted a video on the Atlah website about Hassan titled “One Boy Can Destroy Many Lives.”
He also held an emergency prayer meeting at the church. A video of the event shows he mostly insulted Hassan, other former students, Grimes and Jenkins. He also accused Hassan of having falsified the tape, while nevertheless emphasizing that Tamar was over 18 when she made the recording.
“Sharif Hassan’s friends have been led down the path of destruction by following him or perhaps even believing him,” Manning said from the pulpit as his wife silently sat behind him and nodded. “Many of you tonight do not have your children with you because of the lie perpetrated and false and doctored tape perpetrated by Sharif Hassan.”
Manning referred to the former students as “demons,” “wicked” and “evil.” He projected pictures of them on a big screen.
The former students watched on their computers and phones, horrified at the idea of their parents and siblings sitting in the audience, intermittently participating in claps and cheers.
Moving Forward, Alone
The transition from high school to the greater world can be jarring for any teenager. But this group of former students from Atlah High School had to do it without the support of their family or community, after years of psychological abuse and brainwashing.
Hassan, an aspiring professional musician who works as a barista in Oakland, struggles to process the years he spent admiring Manning. He stopped using his legal last name in an attempt to separate himself from his ugly past. He now uses Hassan, which is technically his middle name.
He wasn’t invited to his sister’s wedding. Spending holidays away from his family is especially hard.
Hassan and the Farr brothers wake up worrying about their younger siblings, who are still involved with the church and enrolled at Manning’s school. They go to bed mourning their parents.
“Even though they might be messed up in the head, that’s still my mom and my dad,” Hassan said. “I miss them unconditionally.”
Tamar, now 22, said it has been hard to “trust anyone in life.”
“I want the world to know everything,” she said. “There should be nothing left out, as far as like how the school is, what they’re putting the kids into.”
The former Atlah students work to deprogram themselves from the hate they were taught to burnish, even at the youngest of ages.
“There’s so much teaching of hate,” said Isaiah Farr, who harbored fear and anger toward LGBTQ people until leaving the church. “I don’t think at all the way I used to.”
They also walk around with questions about how Manning and his school have escaped scrutiny for so many years.
“He has power over all those members in church, whether financially, mentally,” Hassan said. “How is that anything but a cult?”
If you attended Atlah’s school, or a school like Atlah, please email rebecca.klein [at] huffpost [dot] com to share your story.
If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HOME to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.